Date: May 2000
Creator: Collins, Margo
Description: This dissertation examines the role of "acceptable" feminine violence in Restoration and eighteenth-century drama and fiction. Scenes such as Lady Davers's physical assault on Pamela in Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740) have understandably troubled recent scholars of gender and literature. But critics, for the most part, have been more inclined to discuss women as victims of violence than as agents of violence. I argue that women in the Restoration and eighteenth century often used violence in order to maintain social boundaries, particularly sexual and economic ones, and that writers of the period drew upon this tradition of acceptable feminine violence in order to create the figure of the violent woman as a necessary agent of social control. One such figure is Violenta, the heroine of Delarivier Manley's novella The Wife's Resentment (1720), who murders and dismembers her bigamous husband. At her trial, Violenta is condemned to death "notwithstanding the Pity of the People" and "the Intercession of the Ladies," who believe that although the "unexampled Cruelty [Violenta] committed afterwards on the dead Body" was excessive, the murder itself is not inexcusable given her husband's bigamy. My research draws upon diverse archival materials, such as conduct manuals, criminal biographies, and legal records, ...
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